Willow bark basketry with Maggie Smith

I’ve just returned from a three-day workshop on willow bark basketry with the wonderful Maggie Smith. Having worked with neither willow nor bark before, I was slightly worried, but Maggie’s work is fabulous so I couldn’t pass up the chance.

baskets by maggie smith baskets by maggie smith baskets by maggie smith

We started by learning how to strip the bark from willow, with a knife, willow brake or by pounding. Easing the bark off around joints or knots without tearing it can be tricky!

maggie smith stripping willow

But by lunchtime on the first day we had all started to pile up little rolls of bark. The colour of the interior was amazing, ranging from pale yellow to chartreuse green to deep orange. However, this colour does tend to fade as the bark dries.

willow bark stripping willow bark rolls

Maggie told us to discard any preconceived ideas about what we wanted to make and study the bark very carefully to see what was suggested by the marks and texture.

willow bark exterior willow bark interior

I liked the arrangement of holes on one of my pieces of bark so decided to make a pouch consisting of a random weave container wrapped in a whole piece of bark.

The next day we learnt how to cut the bark into even strips, and I started making my random weave piece around a sawdust mould.

willow bark random weave willow bark random weave

Then I cut the whole piece of bark to length, punched holes in it and wrapped the container, stitching on a handle to keep it in position.

willow bark random weave

I left it to dry overnight and the next day managed the tricky task of removing the mould without damaging the bark!

As I had a bit of time left, I also made another coiled piece, using different widths of willow bark strips.

willow bark coiling

Here are the two final finished pieces.

willow bark baskets by Kim Winter

And here are some of the wonderfully diverse and inspiring pieces produced by other students in the class.

willow bark baskets willow bark baskets

Even better, I managed to add willow bark to my cordage collection!

willow bark cordage

 

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Lines and Fragments by Tim Johnson

tim johnson little bags

“Understanding particular properties of particular plants during identification, harvest, processing, selection and finally making not only equips ourselves for making tasks in hand but also gives us a deeper connection to place and its complexity.”

The artist and basketmaker Tim Johnson has spent the past 25 years exploring the relationship between place and material, as this exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham makes clear.

Take the series of 42 little bags simply hung in three rows on the wall (and I would happily take them, every single one). It’s a fascinating display of sampling – the same technique with different materials, or the same materials with different techniques. Each one is absorbing in its details and range of possibilities.

His 2D Lines and Fragments series also incorporates found objects as well as earth pigments, dried herbs and fruit.

tim johnson lines and fragments

And his Curve series moves on with willow and earth pigments to develop the 3D form.

The Cortina works play with light and shadow – I particularly like the use of dried bean pods here.

Another one used yellow plastic coated wire.

My favourite pieces were  the Keeping Time baskets.

I particularly loved the cross sections of the bulrushes when close up.

Tim lives just outside Barcelona with another basketmaker, Monica Guilera, and there were some collaborative pieces on show.

It was also interesting to see some of the sources of his inspiration, including a squashed lampshade found in the road. 🙂

Lines and Fragments runs at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham until 31 August 2019.

Making a coiled sycamore seed

In a previous post I mentioned a course on coiled basketry I was taking with Polly Pollock at City Lit and described the different samples I had made.

The second half of the course focused on our own personal projects, developing the techniques we had learned to produce a piece or series of samples inspired by the seedpod theme.

My inspiration actually came from a piece of driftwood.

driftwood

It reminded me of a sycamore (US: maple) seed, so I thought I would try to weave something around it to create the “wings”.

At first I tried wrapped linear coiling with paper yarn, but it felt too solid and heavy – this was supposed to represent a floating, spinning seed.

linear coiling

So then I tried a more open weave approach, using blanket stitch with cordage, still with paper yarn. This worked better but was a bit too large.

sycamore seed sample

I tried changing materials, using a thinner cordage and enamelled wire for the blanket stitch. This was much better!

sycamore seed wire sample

There was still more experimenting to be done with varying the tension of the stitch to evoke the marks and form of the seed, but I finally got started.

sycamore seed wip

Finally, the finished piece:

sycamore seed

As ever, it was fascinating to see the very different pieces that everyone produced. I don’t have permission to post photos of others’ work, so you’ll have to take my word for it! But it was a fantastic course and I would highly recommend it.

There is also an exhibition coming up of work by students who are completing the two-year City Lit diploma in basketry. It’s at the Espacio Gallery in London from 23 to 28 July. I’ve seen some of the work on Instagram and it looks well worth a visit!

How long is a piece of string?

As long as you want, if you make it yourself. 🙂

In part of the basketry course I did with Polly Pollock at City Lit, we learnt how to prepare natural materials for weaving, including daffodil leaves.

Earlier this year, after the flowers had finished, I gathered a whole load of daffodil leaves before they started getting slimy and eaten by slugs and snails. I tied them into two bunches and hung them up to dry in the shady back garden.

daffodil leaves drying

After about three weeks they had shrunk considerably and changed colour from mostly green to mostly yellowy brown.

dried daffodil leaves

In class, we sprayed them with water and then rolled them in a damp towel and left them for about 10-15 minutes to soften up, before using them as a core material in coiled basketry – here’s the piece I made.

coiled daffodil leaves

However, one of the other students (thanks Gareth!) also showed me how to make cordage (aka string). This is a video I found on YouTube that demonstrates the method.

So I used the rest of the daffodil leaves to make some cordage. I started with 2-ply, using two leaves in each ply (ie four leaves in total).

2-ply daffodil cordage

It’s difficult to see in the photo, but there is lovely colour variation in the cordage from the different leaves. It also smells lovely, like hay!

There are a few bits sticking out where I joined in a new leaf – I will cut these off later.

I also made slightly thicker 3-ply cordage, using six leaves, two in each ply. Here’s a photo showing the relative thicknesses: the 3-ply is at the top, 2-ply underneath.

3-ply and 2-ply daffodil cordage

Because of the opposing twists, you can stop at any time and the cordage doesn’t unravel – so I can keep on going when I get more leaves!

Other long, thin leaves such as iris can also be used for this. I have a lot of crocosmia in my garden, so I’m looking forward to making more cordage in the autumn!

daffodil cordage

 

Different materials, different result

I seem to be getting more obsessed with basketry at the moment – I’m currently doing an eight-week course (one day a week) on coiled basketry with Polly Pollock at City Lit.

The first four weeks have been spent exploring different ways of starting baskets and working with different materials and stitches. In the second half of the course we are expected to work on our own projects around the theme of seedpods. So as you can imagine, this suits me down to the ground! 🙂

So far I’ve experimented with colour:

raffia coiled with hemp
Raffia coiled with hemp

With softer and harder materials:

fabric coiled with paper yarn
Fabric coiled with paper yarn
seagrass coiled with paper yarn
Seagrass coiled with paper yarn

With additions:

seagrass coiling with hare barley additions
Seagrass coiling with hare barley additions

And combining with felt:

coiling with felt
Coiling with felt

I also tried some “linear” coiling – creating rows rather than spiralling from the centre. The first sample I made with this technique had a thick core, which I wrapped with a stiff paper yarn. As I progressed, the piece began to twist quite spontaneously.

twisted coiled piece
Twisted coiling

I made similar pieces with the same core material but different wrapping fibres, which were all softer than the paper yarn. Some of these pieces twisted a little, others hardly at all.

I also tried making a piece with “ribs” to give a more defined form. I bound five lengths of seagrass together and coiled a thinner piece of green seagrass around them using blanket stitch. Because the seagrass ribs were relatively soft, the tension of the stitching tended to twist them slightly to the right, which made the final piece look a little unbalanced.

As a felter, I am used to shaping a piece while fulling it – the final form can look very different from the original! So I thought I would try reshaping this piece to emphasise the twisting even further. The paper yarn is strong but flexible, so this worked out quite well.

twisted coiled seedpod

This week we were working with natural materials, so I repeated this form using strips of cordyline as the ribs, dried daffodil leaves as the core, and waxed polyester string for stitching.

The cordyline was much stiffer than the seagrass, and I found that if I pulled the ribs together at the top, the coiled sections between the ribs bulged outwards, producing a completely different shape.

coiled daffodil leaves

It’s a useful reminder of how you can achieve completely different results with different materials, and making samples is a very worthwhile exercise. 🙂

Prism Textiles “Fragility” exhibition

My first exhibition with Prism, the international exhibiting group of textile artists, is fast approaching. The theme is “Fragility”, and you can get a glimpse of the various ways this has been interpreted on the Prism blog.

My piece, called “One in Five”, was inspired by the effect we humans are having on our fragile environment: scientists at Kew Gardens estimate that one in five plant species are in danger of extinction due to activities such as intensive farming, deforestation and construction.

I have made five stylised seeds combining felt and paper yarn, to represent the fragility of the environment in general as well as their own precarious existence.

The five seeds loosely represented are sycamore (maple in US), dandelion, bean pod, physalis and sweet chestnut.

Sycamore seed by Kim WinterDandelion seed by Kim WinterBeanpod by Kim WinterPhysalis by Kim WinterSweet chestnut by Kim Winter

The hardest part was working out the best way to display them, as in the London gallery we cannot suspend things from the ceiling. Luckily, I managed to find a windfall branch with an interesting shape and lots of lovely lichen. This can be mounted on the wall with the seeds hanging from it.

One in Five by Kim Winter

All photos of my work by Owen Llewellyn.

Fragility runs at Hoxton Arches, Arch 402, Cremer Street, London E2 8HD, from 29 May to 9 June. The private view is on Tuesday 28 May, 7-8.30pm, to which you are all warmly invited!

Kinetic peapod

A while ago, after experimenting with random weave puzzle balls, I made a multilayered set of random weave spheres in neutral colours.

random weave spheres

I then decided to develop this into a multistorey set of three multilayered spheres, but with only three layers each. (Still with me?)

I started with three random weave white paper spheres of different sizes.

Then I created another mould around them and wove another layer on top.

I joined them all together into a single mould.

And then wove around this single mould with black fibre (string and hemp).

Then it was time to remove the moulds! After removal of first mould:

After removing the second layer of moulds:

And finally after removing the innermost moulds:

The spheres in the middle layer touch each other. This was not my original intention, but I found it difficult to weave the joining “necks” narrow enough to prevent it. This means that when you move one sphere, the others move too, which adds an unplanned kinetic touch to the piece!

Woven balls

In November last year I attended a hexagonal weaving workshop with Polly Pollock, where we made hexagonal baskets. At the end of the workshop Polly demonstrated how to make a woven ball using flat cane, but we didn’t have time to try it ourselves.

A few weeks ago I came across a pile of discarded plastic strapping – the type used to secure boxes to wooden pallets by delivery companies. It was about the same width and thickness as the flat cane, so much to ESP’s horror, I decided to take it home and have a go at making a woven ball. (His horror was largely due to the fact that I didn’t have a bag at the time, so he had to carry it. 😉 )

Hexagonal weave actually lies flat, so to get a rounded structure you need to use pentagons rather than hexagons. I started by using five lengths of strap to create a pentagon.

Then I used a sixth strap to weave another layer of five pentagons. This formed the bottom half of the ball. To create the top half I wove another layer of five pentagons – the trickiest part of this is lining up the ends of each strap so that they overlap correctly, tucking them all in to form the single pentagon at the top.

After finishing I posted the final result on Instagram, whereupon someone asked if I’d tried making the 10-strand sphere! Not being one to shirk a challenge, I went off and found the instructions for this.

I started off with a pentagon made from five straps again, but this time added five more straps to surround the pentagon with a layer of hexagons rather than pentagons. After that it’s a case of working out where the other pentagons go: each pentagon is surrounded by hexagons. It was very satisfying to finish this!

Talking of recycling, I will be taking part in The Good Life: Revive, Recycle, Restore at the Weald & Downland Living Museum on 5 and 6 May (bank holiday weekend). I will be selling my garments and accessories upcycled with indigo and ecoprinting.

The museum is a fascinating collection of rescued rural homes and buildings spread across 40 acres of the South Downs, and this themed special event includes a fashion exchange, upcycling demonstrations, a repair cafe and various talks and taster classes.